Nora J. Besansky Martin J. Gillen Professor of Biological Sciences

Evolutionary, Ecological and Functional Genomics of Malaria Vectors
Nora J. Besansky

Research Interests:

About 800,000 people, mainly children under five, die each year from malaria. Of these deaths, 91% are in Africa. While the currently available tools to combat malaria—mainly long-lasting insecticide treated bed nets, insecticide spraying of interior walls and artimisinin-based combination therapy—are substantially reducing malaria cases and deaths, this public health success is fragile due to the threat of resistance. Moreover, even in the absence of resistance, there is no evidence that existing tools can interrupt intense and stable malaria transmission, a situation that applies in many parts of Africa. In such regions, malaria elimination will require additional novel tools.  A pathway toward their development is the application of genomic technologies to deepen our understanding of the relationship between malaria-transmitting mosquitoes and their biotic and abiotic environments.  Implementation and management of control tools—whether old or new—will benefit from an improved understanding of the breeding structure of natural populations.

Guided by this framework, ongoing research in my laboratory centers on the evolutionary, ecological and functional genomics of Anopheles mosquitoes that transmit malaria.  In particular, we study those species responsible for the majority of malaria cases and deaths on the African continent.



  • Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame 2002-Present
  • Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Notre Dame 1997-2002
  • Adjunct Assistant Professor, Department of Biology, Emory University 1992-1997
  • Staff Scientist, Division of Parasitic Diseases, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) 1991-1997
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Division of Viral Diseases, CDC 1989-1991
  • Ph.D., Yale University, New Haven, CT 1990
  • M.S., M.Phil., Genetics. Yale University, New Haven, CT 1987
  • B.A., Biology, Phi Beta Kappa, Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH 1982


Recent Papers:

  • Besansky, N.J. (2014) How mosquito vectors beat the heat. Nature, Published online 26 November 2014 doi:10.1038/nature14073].
  • Fontaine, M.C., Pease, J.B., Steele, A., Waterhouse, R.W., Neafsey, D.E., Sharakhov, I.V., Jiang, X., Hall, A.B., Catteruccia, F., Kakani, E., Mitchell, S.N., Wu, Y-C., Smith, H.A., Love, R.R., Lawniczak, M.K., Slotman, M.A., Emrich, S.J., Hahn, M.W., Besansky, N.J. (2014) Extensive introgression in a malaria vector species complex revealed by phylogenomics. Science, Published online 27 November 2014 [DOI:10.1126/science.1258524].
  • Neafsey DE, Waterhouse RM, Abai MR, et al. [120 authors; Besansky, N.J. senior corresponding author](2014) Highly evolvable malaria vectors: the genomes of 16 Anopheles mosquitoes. Science, Published online 27 November 2014 [DOI:10.1126/science.1258522].
  • Fossog, B.T., Ayala, D., Acevedo, P., Kengne, P., Mebuy, I.N.A., Makanga, B., Magnus, J., Awono-Ambene, P., Njiokou, F., Pombi, M., Antonio-Nkondjio, C., Paupy, C., Besansky, N.J., Costantini, C. (2014) Distribution modeling and physiological testing of cryptic African malaria vectors suggest a role for salinity tolerance in habitat segregation, local adaptation, and ecological character displacement. Evol Appl, in press.
  • Reidenbach, K.R., Cheng, C., Liu, F., Liu, C., Besansky, N.J., Zainulabeuddin S. (2014) Cuticular differences associated with aridity acclimation in African malaria vectors carrying alternative arrangements of inversion 2La. Parasites & Vectors 7: 176.
  • Cassone, B.J., Kamdem, C., Cheng, C., Tan, J.C., Hahn, M.W., Costantini, C., Besansky, N.J. (2014) Gene expression divergence between malaria vector sibling species Anopheles gambiae and An. coluzzii from rural and urban Yaoundé Cameroon. Mol Ecol, 23: 2242-59.
  • Guelbeogo, W.M., Sagnon, N'F., Liu, F., Besansky, N.J., Costantini, C. (2014) Behavioral divergence of sympatric Anopheles funestus populations in Burkina Faso. Malar J 13: 65.  
  • Powell, J.R., Besansky, N.J., Della Torre, A., Petrarca, V. (2014) Mario Coluzzi (1938-2012). Malar J 13: 10.
  • Harbach, R.E., Besansky, N.J. (2014) Mosquitoes. Current Biol 24: R14-5.